I don’t know what it is that compels me to reach for my camera whenever I see a lost or forgotten object, like this gallon of milk someone left behind in their grocery cart at the Auburndale Shaw’s this afternoon. There’s something lonesome and forlorn about castoff things. I always wonder about the story behind these objects, and I feel sad for the people who left them behind. Is someone upset now that they’re home and find themselves with a full refrigerator of food, but no milk? Is some harried parent making an emergency trip back to the store right now because the kids will need milk with their Saturday morning cartoons-and-cereal tomorrow?
I guess I feel a kind of sympathy for lost objects and the unseen folks who might be looking for them: who among us, after all, hasn’t lost something, and who among us hasn’t, at some point, felt lost? Often the lost objects I find (and compulsively photograph) are prominently displayed on fences, benches, or other eye-level perches: someone took the time not only to retrieve this lost thing but to place it somewhere that it might be found. The sight of such kindness from one stranger to another always cheers me: it seems inherently hopeful to think that a frantic searcher might find a castoff thing, all because of the kindness of an anonymous stranger.
One day last week while J and I were in New York, a woman dropped her sweater as she bustled down a busy Chelsea sidewalk, and no sooner had the sweater landed but a handful of strangers each lunged forward, separately, to retrieve the garment and alert the woman: “Ma’am!” “Miss!” “Hey, lady!” J noted how this instantaneous rush to help an anonymous passerby belies everything you hear about brusque New Yorkers. Although city-dwellers might walk fast and avoid eye-contact, there still lies within us an instinctive urge to reach out, retrieve, and reunite lost objects with their owners. Perhaps we all know, intrinsically, the ache of lonesomeness, and this compels us to reunite lost objects and lost souls whenever we can.